In celebration of the ongoing LensCulture Portrait Awards 2016, we will be publishing a series of inspiring features on great contemporary portraiture.

To help us in our search for the best portrait-makers working today, we reached out to our network of LensCulture Insiders to ask for their expert insight. Alexa Becker, the Acquisitions Editor for the German publisher Kehrer Verlag, reminded us of the work of Monika Merva.

Below, we share both Becker’s thoughts on Monika Merva’s portraits as well as a statement from Merva describing her series, “The City of Children.” Enjoy!

A portrait that catches my attention evokes the impression that the photographer has captured the very “essence” of this specific person. The person portrayed holds a presence like we’ve known each other for years—yet, at the same moment, I feel that I am seeing this person for the very first time.

One photographer whose portraits I appreciate very much is Monika Merva. What strikes me about her work is the way that people captured by Merva seem to have completely let down their guard. They seem vulnerable to the gaze of the onlooker. Not as if they are unsafe, but as if we already—at first glance—are so comfortable with this person that they are able to open up before our eyes.

—Alexa Becker
Acquisitions Editor, Kehrer Verlag

Artist’s Statement

When you walk through the gates of the Karolyi Istvan Gyermekkozpont in Fot, Hungary you are pleasantly surprised. Rows of dorm-like homes emerge from behind ancient trees. The land once belonged to the Count whom it is named after. Later, it was seized by the government and turned into a housing facility for children seeking help from their dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families. Gyermekkozpont is its own community.

Having visited the City of Children many times over the years, I have become impressed by its quiet, and often hidden, power and beauty. The community has its distinguishing characteristics, but if you dig deeper, you will find that there exists a direct connection between these surface traits and the universal truths that lie just beneath: truths about human nature and condition we all share.

At first glance you might simply see the people photographed as very different from yourself, but after a longer look, you see the commonality of our life experiences. There is a bond between all people through which we can relate to one another, and it just needs to be recognized. The connection may be the memory of teenaged angst, a feeling of isolation, or the joy of laughing with a great friend.

Since 2002 I have photographed the children in and around their home. I have always been interested in people. As a first-generation American of Hungarian descent, my interest in Gyermekkozpont is personal. I spent my childhood summers in Hungary, speak the language, and have extended family there.

I believe home is where our strength lies. It’s the source of everything, where all our fears, questions, love, and a sense of belonging originate.

—Monika Merva

City of Children
by Monika Merva
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag
Hardcover: 112 pages